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Blake Bortles, Eric Ebron among Year 2 breakout candidates across NFL

Just weeks away from the 2015 NFL Draft, all of the focus is on the next crop of players entering the professional football ranks. But this is a very important offseason for the youngsters who just completed their first year of league service -- particularly the ones who didn't play as well as anticipated. Yes, while a number of rookies -- see: Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald, Zack Martin and C.J. Mosley -- enjoyed dynamic debuts, there were others who left something to be desired.

With that in mind, which underwhelming player from the 2014 draft class do you see breaking through in Year 2?

Blake Bortles had one of the worst statistical seasons of the last decade by a quarterback. Yet the more I watch him play, the more there is to like. Bortles rips off at least five "wow" plays per game that most starting NFL quarterbacks could not pull off. Eli Manning and Alex Smith were not doing that during their awful rookie seasons.

Bortles was hampered by drops and an absolutely dreadful offensive line more than any rookie quarterback in 2014. His decision-making quietly improved as the season wore on and he is very athletic. Yes, I am projecting here. He needs to be more accurate. But his biggest problems (getting fooled by defenses, spotty decision-making) should be solved with experience. He can be a solid starter, which would be a massive jump after his unpleasant introduction to the league. Eric Ebron will be a breakout player to watch in 2015. The Detroit Lions didn't get a lot of production -- or impact plays -- from the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but I expect him to be a significant contributor this season. Young players typically make the biggest jump in development between their first and second seasons. They are finally comfortable with their role in the system; they have had time to acclimate to the speed and intensity of the pro game. Moreover, coaches have a better understanding of a young player's game, allowing them to tailor the game plan around strengths.

Thus, the Lions should expect to see a more comfortable Ebron snag 50-plus catches and emerge as a red-zone threat, with opponents intent on taking away Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. If Ebron puts in the work during the offseason to develop a few moves to shake free from man coverage, he could live up to the lofty expectations that preceded his arrival as a highly touted draft pick. I think Green Bay has the makings of two future stars from the 2014 draft class. This is the season Ha Ha Clinton-Dix becomes one of the better young free safeties in the league. He started 10 games last season, but had the normal rookie ups and downs. This season, expect a lot more of an upward trajectory, which should be expected from a former first-round pick.

I also think wide receiver Davante Adams, who was a second-round pick last May, will begin to blossom. He had a big day against Dallas in the playoffs, but that performance came after a mediocre regular season. He has the skill set necessary to be a solid No. 2 receiver, and he'll begin to show that on a consistent basis this fall. The obvious choice is Houston's Jadeveon Clowney. Due to health issues, the No. 1 overall pick suited up for just four games, recording seven tackles and zero sacks. If he can get his body right, Clowney should be a double-digit sack guy in 2015.

Another player I expect to significantly improve is Lions TE Eric Ebron, who managed just 25 catches and one touchdown in 2014. This is coordinator Joe Lombardi's second year running the offense in Detroit, something that should benefit everyone on the unit -- but particularly Ebron. Generally speaking, tight ends make the biggest jump during Year 2 in the NFL. Most TEs don't receive a lot of direct tutelage in college because of the smaller coaching staffs at that level, as compared to the NFL. The easy answer to me is Patriots defensive lineman Dominique Easley, given how much injuries set the first-round pick back as a rookie. He'll have every opportunity to showcase what he can do with Vince Wilfork gone and Bill Belichick needing somebody to take over in the heart of the New England defense. His path to a breakout year is clear, and if he's fully healthy, he can certainly burst onto the scene in the tough AFC East.

Also, don't be surprised if Demarcus Lawrence has a big year for the Cowboys, playing opposite the recently signed Greg Hardy. Eric Ebron's first season in the NFL was the very definition of underwhelming. With just 25 catches and one touchdown, his absence from the Detroit Lions' offense was more noticeable than his contribution to it. Entering Year 2, more is expected of the No. 10 overall pick from last year, as it should be.

General manager Martin Mayhew noted in February that Ebron's play trended upward over the latter part of last season, and the tight end will look to carry that momentum -- along with a lot more footballs -- in 2015.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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